The heat versus ice debate is something I talk about with my patients on a regular basis. Television has done a good of teaching us we should be using heat or ice for our everyday body aches. The fifty dollar question remains, which should I use for my condition. Both forms of home therapy are relatively benign and aren't likely to cause significant adverse reaction. That being said, heating a condition that should be iced can make it more painful in the short term. The following are my guidelines that I use and my rational for their use.
Let's start with heat. Application of a heating pad, or hot moist pack, is aimed at increasing blood flow to the affected area. The idea is that increasing blood flow to the area will decrease muscular spasms. Increase temperature of the area will allow increased muscle elasticity. This again will decrease muscular tightness and help reduce pain originating from said muscles. Common descriptions that indicate muscular pain are achy pain, dull pain, stiffness, tightness and/or soreness.
Now to common conditions which respond better to ice. Ice is commonly used to aid in relieving swelling or inflammation. Commonly ice is used 24 to 48 hours after initial injury as this is likely when the most swelling will occur. Other types of pain that indicate swelling or inflammation of soft tissues are numbness, tingling, or burning sensations, which are commonly associated with nerve irritation or spinal disc injury.
Duration of hot pack use shoulder never exceed 20-25 minutes, depending on how hot the pack is. In regards to ice, 10 minutes should be sufficient, less if the compress is applied directly to the skin.
As always, if you have additional questions contact your health care provider for more detailed response to which form of home therapy is appropriate for you.
Bryan M. Steele, DC
O'Leary Chiropractic, PLLC